This week Patrick talks to former environmental lawyer Nicolette Hahn Niman, who in recent years has gained an international reputation as a campaigner for sustainable food production and farm-animal welfare.
The discussion was prompted by a feature in The Guardian, in which Nicolette describes the thought-process behind switching from being a vegetarian of 33 years, to becoming a cattle rancher and advocate for the role of livestock in sustainable farming systems.
Nicolette starts by describing her career as a senior attorney, during which time she fought to address the pollution resulting from intensive livestock and poultry production. Through this work she met her husband, Bill Niman, a rancher based in California, whose approach to farming offered a sustainable alternative.
Speaking of her life as a vegetarian, Nicolette admits that for about 33 years she was ‘very hungry’, and that after eating a beefburger prepared by her husband, she finally felt satiated. This brings Patrick to a question that is on the minds of many: ‘What should I eat to be healthy and sustainable?’. Nicolette feels passionately that the more ‘biologically active’ foods we consume, such as locally grown fruits and vegetables, and grass-fed animal products, the healthier we will be.
As well as the nutritional value of eating animal products, Nicolette highlights the need to consider the ‘basic realities about what the planet actually looks like’ in terms of climate and typography. She explains that where grasslands occur naturally, grazing livestock can play an important role in building soil organic matter and encouraging plants that help to draw down carbon.
On Nicolette and Bill’s own farm, their cattle make the best possible use of the land in a natural, rotational system, and their high-quality beef is supplied to the local community.
Nicolette Hahn Niman served as senior attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance, running their campaign to reform the concentrated production of livestock and poultry. In recent years, she has gained a national and international reputation as an advocate for sustainable food production and improved farm-animal welfare. She is the author of Righteous Porkchop and Defending Beef, and has written for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, HuffPost, and The Atlantic. She lives on a ranch in Northern California with her husband, Bill Niman, and their two sons, Miles and Nicholas.
Nicolette’s fascinating story was recently featured in The Guardian: ‘It’s not the cow, it’s the how’: why a long-time vegetarian became beef’s biggest champion.